The ACC is taking a huge risk with this two-year exploratory mission to Brooklyn, and not that it might end up submerged in the big city, passing unnoticed like a tourist in the night, especially if Syracuse and Duke check out early.
What if it actually works really well? What then?
The ACC tournament is already in the midst of a historic three-year sabbatical away from North Carolina, one that could be extended to five (or beyond) shortly thanks to House Bill 2. If things go well this week, there will be a strong push from the former Big East schools to come back more often. Perhaps even always.
This is not a threat to be taken lightly. North Carolina made the ACC tournament what it is today, first at Reynolds Coliseum, then in Greensboro. It was, and remains, the acme of conference tournaments, and proximity to the schools that care the most is what made it great – and continues to make it great, even amid the inevitable demographic change expansion has provoked.
Hosting the tournament in North Carolina – not every year, but on a reasonably regular basis – is as important to the ACC as it is the state where it makes its home. It’s part of what makes the ACC the ACC. It’s part of what made the ACC a desirable destination to all of the new members (although, to be sure, a teeny-tiny part).
Between HB2 and the wishes of the Big East exiles, that’s under threat.
Already, the ACC is moving forward with contingency plans to move the 2019 tournament from Charlotte and the 2020 tournament from Greensboro because of HB2. That will come up for a vote at the ACC’s annual meeting in May, with Orlando, Tampa and Atlanta all potential destinations for 2019 and Washington a possible contender for 2020.
The bidding cycle for 2021 and beyond hasn’t started yet, so what happens this year (and next) in Brooklyn will matter as much as HB2 in that equation. And there’s a lot of curiosity as to how it will go.
Washington was an unqualified success a year ago, in part because if its location. It bridged the gap between ACC and old Big East. Strong showings from Virginia and North Carolina didn’t hurt, but the fan interaction in the neighborhood outside the arena was organic and memorable.
Brooklyn doesn’t have any of those geographic advantages. Fans will be spread across two boroughs and the area around the Barclays Center isn’t exactly a gathering spot. The Triangle schools, North Carolina in particular, have deep historic ties to New York, but this is foreign territory for most of the ACC, Big East country, to the point where what’s left of the Big East still clings desperately to Madison Square Garden. Syracuse and the ACC’s other Big East exiles will spend the week casting wistful glances across the East River as the ACC plays off-Broadway this week.
Barring a willingness to play the tournament a week early, as the Big Ten will next year at Madison Square Garden, Brooklyn is as close as the ACC is going to get. But that might be just fine: Barclays was built for basketball, and the novelty of playing the ACC tournament in New York may go a long way. There’s no reason it can’t work here, just no guarantee that it will.
The most logical long-term solution, assuming the eventual repeal of HB2, is an unofficial rota of ACC tournament hosts that includes Charlotte, Washington, Brooklyn and a wild card – the latter a group of cities that would include sentimental returns to Greensboro as well as occasional visits to Atlanta, Florida and any Northeastern cities (Pittsburgh?) that wanted to make a run at the tournament.
But there will be sentiment, if this week goes well, to make New York more of a permanent station, especially if Madison Square Garden at some point becomes a possibility, even more so if HB2 remains an ongoing concern.
This is going to be a very different week in Brooklyn. Everyone will find out just how well the ACC tournament travels outside of its traditional comfort zone – and might get a hint to how much more it will be traveling in the future.
Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, firstname.lastname@example.org, @LukeDeCock